Tonight, We Are Young

In my never-ending quest to be more youthful, I’m always on the lookout for the hip, cool spots to hang out. That being said however, I want to hang out in hip and cool spots on my 50-year-old terms. You know, I want to wear comfortable shoes, drink better quality liquor, and have a warm, clean place to go to the bathroom. This fall, Bob and I spent three delightful days in Lisbon, Portugal, where we walked all over, ate outstanding tapas and Portuguese delicacies, and hung out with the cool kids, drinking on the streets on a Friday night. And yes, I was wearing comfortable shoes, drinking better quality liquor, and there was a warm, clean place to go to the bathroom. Dreams do come true.

One of Lisbon’s most iconic spots, the Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo, is an extremely steep street (11% grade) with a working funicular. For about 4 euros, you can ride 800 feet on a picturesque tram that first began operating in 1892. But even better, the street also boasts a few tiny bars right off the funicular route, whose patrons spill into the street and on the tracks. When a funicular comes slowly rolling up the hill, the revelers simply saunter out of the way, then merge back onto to the tracks when the tram has passed. We stumbled on this happening spot one Friday night in late October, finding oodles of young Lisboetas enjoying cheap beer and conversation. (Side note: you know you’re old when you look around and a) no one else has grey hair and b) everyone is drinking 1 euro cheap beer instead of 2 euro sangria. We bucked the trend in both cases.)

But if you don’t want to hang out drinking on funicular tracks, you’re still in luck. Picturesque streets and fun public transit abound in Lisbon. It’s been said that Lisbon is similar to San Francisco, and I definitely agree. Both cities are on the water, with steep, narrow streets and hidden alleys, and both offer trolleys to get around town. After meandering through three different neighborhoods on self-guided walking tours, with Rick Steves Snapshot Lisbon to point out the best sites, Bob and I found our way Prazeres Cemetery, where the popular Trolley #28E starts its rickety journey across town.

We trekked to its starting point because we wanted to make sure we got seats on this popular route that lurches its way up and down Lisbon’s hills and through its twisty, cobbled streets, fighting traffic the whole way. We had to box a few young folks out, to keep them from cutting us in line, but we did indeed get seats and our ride through town was delightful. This isn’t just a touristy journey. Plenty of locals use the vintage trolleys to get around town as well. It’s great to have a seat where you can look out the window, because at times, it seems the trolley is going to hit any number of cars or other trolleys as it squeezes down tight streets, but the drivers are not shy about using their trolley bells, warning others to get out of the way.

We ate great local food in Lisbon, including the famous pastel de natas—an egg tart pastry that we had at breakfast every day—as well as delicious sardines, local sausages and more. And we drank good beer and delicious sangria in many lively neighborhoods as well.

On our final day we rode the bus out to Belem, five miles west of downtown Lisbon. With many interesting sites, Belem is worth a half day of sightseeing. We enjoyed the National Coach Museum that boasts one of the best displays of historical coaches in the world. The coaches are housed in an old riding school, and date as far back as the 1500s. They once belonged to Italian Popes and royalty from France, England and Spain, to name a few.

We walked back to Lisbon from Belem, stopping along the way at the LX Factory, a hip, cool outdoor shopping/bar/restaurant district that was once an industrial center. Again, we were surrounded by the cool kids, as they sat outside drinking and conversing on a late afternoon. Bob and I certainly must have some youthful magnetism that draws us to the happening spots. It only took us 50+ years to discover it.


Canceling a Trip Without Insurance

Over the years, Bob and I have purchased trip insurance for a variety of reasons. At one time, we purchased travel health insurance for our whole family when our health policy would not cover us outside the United States. Another time, we purchased insurance because we booked our travel far in advance, and wanted to “hedge our bets” so to speak. Now, our current credit card, the United Club Card, offers trip insurance coverage for travel purchased with the card, as do many other credit cards. But all trip insurance, no matter the plan or provider, is limited in what is covered.

Recently, Bob and I chose to cancel a planned trip to Myanmar. We had booked airline tickets to Yangon early last summer, before the military operations that have displaced more than half a million Rohingya Muslims began, with the intention to travel in January 2018. But once the situation developed, we decided we could not, in good conscience, travel there.

Our tickets, $560 each round trip from SFO to Myanmar, were purchased through a third party agency on Air China, and were listed as “refundable.” But there’s always fine print isn’t there? The tickets were indeed refundable, but we only got back what ultimately amounted to the price of one ticket, after the cancellation fees of $280 for each ticket were applied. Bob tried to plead our case with Air China, but to no avail. They were completely unhelpful, in fact, they hung up on Bob after telling him they would not help us. The third party agency tried to help us as best as they could, calling Air China on our behalf, but they got nowhere either.

Could we have done something differently to receive a full refund? Frankly, I’m not sure we could have. We did not have any trip insurance for these tickets. But in this case, I don’t believe insurance would have helped us. My experience with trip insurance is that the fine print is quite specific as to what it actually covers. Most travel insurance plans cover trip cancellation due to death or serious illness—with signed medical forms needed for proof—job loss, and terrorist attacks and natural disasters (with a great deal more fine print). None of these reasons were specific to the cancellation of our trip.

It’s possible that if we were flying on United, where we are long time customers and frequent fliers, that United might have taken pity on us and waived the fees. They have done this for us before, when we canceled a trip to Peru because of State Department warnings. But we got nowhere with Air China. And I do mean nowhere.

I am in no way suggesting that trip insurance is a bad idea. For certain trips, and for certain travelers, I believe trip insurance can be very useful. I just don’t believe it would have helped in this situation.

Here are two stories from travel experts that should give you a bit more insight:


There Stands the Glass

by Nancy Bestor

I must admit, I have mixed feelings about museums. I always have really good intentions. I tell myself I want to see all the best paintings/sculptures/exhibits on offer and I am excited to do so. But my enthusiasm often peters out before I make it to the third or fourth (or second) gallery. I’m here to tell you though that Chihuly Garden and Glass is, from start to finish, fantastic. Every single exhibit is stunning, and if I lived in Seattle I might just buy a season pass.

Located in the shadow of the Space Needle at the Seattle Center, Chihuly Garden and Glass houses a wonderful collection of the sublime glass-blown art of Dale Chihuly. Eight galleries, an outdoor garden with glass works scattered throughout beautiful matching flowers, trees and shrubs, and the centerpiece of the museum, the 40 foot tall Glasshouse, gave me a new and enthusiastic appreciation for this art form. From the suspended sculptures to the vase-like pieces, each is extraordinary. Even the videos detailing Chihuly’s process and his international shows in such far-flung locales as Venice and Jerusalem were fascinating. Admission is $29. That sounds a bit steep, but I promise you, it is $29 very well spent.

Bob, Emily and I wondered many things as we toured Chihuly Garden and Glass. How often and how easily are the glass sculptures cleaned? The outdoor pieces must get pooped on by birds every now and then right? They were in perfectly pristine shape when we visited, so someone is taking good care of them. I would be too nervous for that job, let me tell you. None of the sculptures are behind glass (get it?). But all kidding aside, anyone can touch these pieces. Has one ever been broken? And what sort of home is grand enough to house a large Chihuly sculpture? I’d pay money to see that too.

It’s hard to do this museum justice in words, and perhaps even harder in photographs. But here are a few of my favorite pieces, from an amateur photographer’s perspective.

Age is Only a Number, Or is It?

by Nancy Bestor

I celebrated a milestone birthday earlier this year, and although most of my real friends tell me I don’t look a day over 39, every now and then I get a not so gentle reminder that I am no spring chicken. Take a trip to LA earlier this year for example. I was meeting my daughters for a long weekend, but since we were flying from separate locations, and their plane was late, I had several hours to kill, so I went to a fancy Los Angeles movie theater.  The theater was lovely, with a full bar and restaurant, a gift store, and every kind of candy you might imagine available for purchase. When I bought my ticket, the young man behind the counter hesitated a moment before asking me if I was buying an “adult” ticket. Yes, of course I was, I’m not trying to get the kids’ price, I thought. I’m sure you all know where this is going. He proceeded to ask me if I was a senior, so I could get the senior citizen discount. I was 49 years old at the time. Forty. Nine.

Then last week Bob and I were looking at trips to Patagonia, thinking that next fall we might like to travel to Argentina and see some glaciers, walk on the ice, and hike some fabulous trails. The only tour company that actually takes folks for hikes onto the Perito Moreno Glacier itself has two options; a mini-trek, and a longer “Big Ice” trek. Of course I immediately wanted to do the Big Ice trek as it goes right to the middle of the Glacier, as opposed to just on its edges, and then I found out that the age limit for the Big Ice trek is 18-50. Yep. Bob is already too old for this trek, and I will officially be too old after April 2018.

I don’t often feel old. I’m figuring that I’ve got oodles of time to take adventurous and active vacations. And that’s just what Bob and I are planning to do. At the time of this email’s release, we are on a week long walking tour of the Southern Algarve Coast of Portugal. But the truth of the matter is, life is short. Eat dessert first. Buy the shoes. Smile while you still have teeth. And hike the Perito Moreno Glacier when you’ve got the chance.

Life Is A Journey, Not a Destination

by Nancy Bestor

I’ve always thought there is something extra exotic about a destination that you can’t get to by plane or car. Those places that you have to go the extra mile and make the extra effort to see, whether you’re hiking, taking a boat, or even riding a donkey, just seem more exciting to me.

On our five-month honeymoon around the United States in our old Volkswagen bus, Bob and I spent a few days at the Grand Canyon. This is truly one of the most awe-inspiring spots I have ever been fortunate enough to visit. We didn’t limit ourselves to the view from the Rim though. We took a day to hike to the bottom, where we camped overnight, and then we hiked back out over the next two days. We packed all our camping gear and food in and back out with us. I remember my pack being very heavy, and I remember the hike being exhausting, but I also remember feeling like it was all worth it.

I had to repeatedly remind myself of these beliefs when earlier this year my girlfriends and I were on a less than delightful 45-minute boat ride on our way to Yelapa from Puerto Vallarta. Yelapa is a sleepy village south of PV, that is only accessible by ferry (and I use the term ferry loosely). While the boats run several times a day, we just barely made it for the day’s final crossing. Our flight arrived at 4pm, and via email with the manager of the ferry boat, we had arranged for the 5pm boat to be held for our arrival. The crew and about 30 passengers were all waiting for us when we arrived by taxi, but we still needed to get cash as there are no banks or ATM’s in Yelapa. After a hurried ATM stop we stepped aboard.

We foolishly thought we would have time to buy beers before boarding. Beers that we would leisurely sip on what was sure to be a relaxing and picturesque boat journey to Yelapa (insert laughing/crying emoji here). There wasn’t time to buy beer, and as it turned out, we were hanging on for dear life, and our beers would have quickly gone overboard anyway. Apparently, boat rides later in the day are pretty choppy, and that is an understatement. We donned life jackets and held on to whatever we could. I was worried about our luggage, which was stacked haphazardly at the front of the boat. Fortunately the luggage did indeed stay in the boat, as did all 30ish passengers. And while I’m sure the views of the coastline were beautiful, I quickly realized I had to keep my head straight and my eyes looking ahead, for fear I would toss my cookies overboard. A friendly six-year-old boy sitting next to me kept me entertained by telling me this “ride” was the most fun he has had since he rode a roller coaster at Disneyland. I kept to myself the fact that I did not agree.

Yelapa was indeed delightful, and just as sleepy and charming as we expected. And once my feet were on solid ground—and I was sipping a cold beer while taking in the ocean view, as opposed to bumping on a boat in the ocean—the ride became worth it. Especially since I didn’t throw up.

I Been All Around This Great Big World And I Seen All Kinds of Girls

by Nancy Bestor

I was born in California. I’m not ashamed. I spent the first 26 years of my life there. I even owned a red convertible Volkswagen Bug when I was in college. I’ve now lived nearly as many years in Oregon, and no longer consider myself a “California girl.” (Just a thought though… At age 50, can I consider myself a “girl” of anywhere? I digress.) I do, however, have family and friends still living in The Golden State, and am always happy to drive across the border to visit them. And the food, music and scenery of California, from north to south, doesn’t disappoint either.

Thus when my only sibling suggested a long sister weekend in Southern California this past summer, how could I say no? My expectations were for long walks, cocktails, and good ethnic food—not necessarily in that order—all in lovely and smoke-free California sunshine. (August and early September were smoky months in Southern Oregon, due to extreme wildfires throughout the state.) And that is exactly what we achieved.

We knew we wanted to be in a beach city and not too far a drive from LAX. Our first choice was Huntington Beach, but lodging was difficult to find there, so we chose nearby Seal Beach. And that, in my opinion, worked out perfectly. Seal Beach is much quieter than Huntington Beach, our hotel (Pacific Inn at Seal Beach) was reasonably priced, and there were blocks upon blocks of beautiful and unique houses that we could stroll by every day.

On our first afternoon we meandered our way past dozens of these homes before finding ourselves at a bar and restaurant (imagine that?) where we stopped for Moscow Mules. Because we were pretty sure it was five o’clock… somewhere.

On another day we left the car at the hotel and rented beach cruisers at Main Street Cyclery ($5 per hour). We rode our so-cals from Seal Beach down to Huntington, briefly along the Pacific Coast Highway, but mostly on a bike path alongside the beach. It was a lovely expedition, and, in our opinion, earned us more Moscow Mules.

My only complaint with this trip was the traffic. When we drove to visit a longtime friend in Newport Beach, the traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway was pretty nasty. What took us 30 minutes in the morning, took two hours returning in the afternoon. I don’t think the traffic was bad specifically because we were in Seal Beach. Traffic in Southern California is just generally bad. Particularly when you are an Oregon woman, and are used to no traffic at all. Never fear, we managed to spend a lovely afternoon with our girlfriend, eating and shopping our way around Newport, and of course, found time to sample a few beverages too.

We also spent a few hours on Balboa Island, a man-made island filled with vacation rentals, boat docks, shops and restaurants, and, most importantly, home of the world famous Balboa Bar at Balboa Beach Treats. My sister had been to Balboa several times before, and wanted to make sure I tried one before we left. My Balboa Bar with toffee crunch did not disappoint.

We walked on the beach a few times, with its quintessential Southern California beach lifeguard stations, and one morning we briefly watched an extremely fit group of people who were doing cross fit exercises with a trainer. We didn’t watch long, as we had more important things to do, like eat food.

On our many strolls through various neighborhoods in the area, I swooned over the wide array in styles of beach cottages and homes. But I can’t see myself returning to live in California, even if given the opportunity to live in one of those great beach locations. My California roots run deep, just not deep enough to fight traffic.


Wait Until That Deal Come Round

by Nancy Bestor

Last month a friend looking for travel advice told me about Travelzoo, an online site that publishes offers from thousands of travel, entertainment and local companies. They had found a package deal for a five-day trip to Barcelona for four people that included round trip air out of SFO and hotel, for under $4000. While that did sound like a good deal, I decided to do a little research myself (because I vainly often think I can do better), and came up with a significantly better deal: roundtrip from SFO and 7 nights at a charming, highly rated airbnb, all for under $3000.

I don’t share this story to brag (okay, maybe just a tiny bit), but rather to report that if you’re willing to do the legwork, package deals are rarely—in my humble opinion—offered at a better rate than if you piece a trip together on your own. Granted, their Barcelona deal was at a “five star hotel,” and the suggestion I put together for my friend was for lodging at an airbnb. But frankly, I’d choose an airbnb any day over a hotel, especially if I’m traveling with more than one person. Even if I don’t plan on doing any cooking, it is so much better to have room to move around a whole apartment or house, as opposed to a hotel room. I also feel like I am “living like a local” when I stay in a residential area as opposed to a hotel zone. And our experience is that an airbnb is almost always cheaper than a hotel. You might have to provide your own soap and shampoo, although they are often included, and you won’t get clean sheets and towels from housekeeping every day, but it’s still worth it.

I’m not suggesting Travelzoo does not have great deals. In fact, I’ve signed up to get their emails for travel offers all over the world. I like to see what is out there, and if nothing else, it will get me looking on my own to see if I can put something together for cheaper. Perhaps there are some package deals out there that are great bargains, but I’m kind of particular—some (ahem, BOB) might even call me picky. But I want to choose the lodging that is best for me, which is why I can spend way too much time looking at hotel reviews online. Plus, I’m always just a little bit suspicious. If Travelzoo can find an outstanding bargain, what else is out there? Apparently, I’m willing to surf the internet for hours and hours to find out.